State officials say Pa.’s dog law enforcement is on ‘life support’

    Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding speaks during a press conference, detailing the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s impending funding crisis, the implications for public safety and animal welfare, and how the crisis can be averted, on the capitol steps on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.( Commonwealth Media Services photo)

    A funding deficit two decades in the making has put the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement in a perilous position, state officials confirmed Wednesday. 

    The bureau, which oversees dog licenses, vaccination requirements, kennel inspections and investigates dog breeders hasn’t seen an increase in its service fees in 24 years, state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. 

    Joined on the Capitol steps by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and state Rep. Eddie Pashinski, D-Luzerne, Redding said the bureau is in dire need of legislative and financial support. 

    “Simply put, that funding has run out,” Redding said. “A small fee increase for the privilege of owning a dog can help protect those very dogs from harm.”

    Two bills currently being considered by the General Assembly could help increase the revenue stream for the bureau, SB 663, sponsored by Schwank, and HB 1504, which is sponsored by Pashinski. 

    The bills propose an increased fee for dog licenses, which make up 90 percent of the Bureau’s revenue. 

    Currently, a license for a spayed or neutered dog costs $6.50. The new fee would be $10. 

    A lifetime license for a spayed or neutered dog costs $31.50. The new fee would be $49. 

    The bills also propose lowering the age at which a dog must be licensed from three months to eight weeks, the age when puppies can be transferred to a new owner.

    Without an increase in funding, supporters said they worry about what will happen to the state’s dog population. 

    “The bureau offers important services that need funding,” Schwank said. “Without intervention, this department will lose its ability to function. This puts puppies, dogs and people at risk.”

    Earlier this year, funding for the bureau was the subject of a special report by the Office of the Auditor General. 

    The report found that while the number of dog licenses sold has increased, that increase has not been enough to keep up with rising costs of operation. 

    “The General Assembly has made some important changes to animal protection laws, but too little attention has been given to making sure dog law enforcement is adequately funded to protect the health and safety of all dogs,” DePasquale said. “We must make sure our dog wardens have the resources they need to do an effective job.”

    According to the report, in an effort to stay afloat, the bureau has cut back on hiring dog wardens and taken other cost-saving measures in recent years. But the department says it’s only delayed the inevitable. 

    By September, Department of Agriculture officials confirmed, the bureau will be in the red and no longer able to support its operations. 

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.